SUVA- Job cuts since George Speight's civilian coup have topped 4000, Fiji's
Labour Ministry says.
A ministry survey of 435 employers in the past four weeks found that 4122 workers had lost their jobs. Other staff had wages cut and hours reduced.
Industries hardest hit by the nation's political crisis were tourism, manufacturing
and garment factories, but small retail outlets were also suffering.
Speight's May 19 coup, in which he and a band of armed gunmen took 31 MPs and
Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry hostage, is crippling the economy.
There have been estimates it will cost Fiji $F1 billion ($A836.45 million).
Fiji's military council is already preparing a mini-budget for the five months
from August, with authorities predicting slashed spending as government revenues
plummet by $F200 million.
The Commonwealth is to consider at a meeting in September whether economic
sanctions, that could cost more jobs, should be imposed on Fiji.
A Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was told by some groups yesterday
that sanctions should be put in place to ensure a return to proper democracy
However, it does not appear the Commonwealth will take any punitive action
until Speight's 31 hostages are released.
Fiji's military rulers told Commonwealth leaders it might be two years before
a constitution is in place, and free elections held.
Talks of a two-year timeframe, revealed by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander
Downer, indicated the Commonwealth might accept the overthrow of the democratically
elected government of Chaudhry, an Indian-Fijian.
The Commonwealth delegation, which included Foreign Minister Phil Goff, has
described Chaudhry's Government as the only proper authority in Fiji.
However, it has become clear the military rulers led by Commodore Frank Bainimarama,
who declared martial law last month, are also recognised by the Commonwealth.
Goff said the meeting with the military had been positive.
"Our understanding is that there will be a return shortly to an interim
civilian government," he said.
"My personal response to that is we understand that that might be a step
back to democracy.
"But there is currently a legitimate government and that government, from
a New Zealand perspective, is the government that should continue to exercise
Bainimarama today told the CMAG delegation once hostages were released, it
would take 24 months for elections to be held.
The military intended naming a civilian government that would draw up a constitution
and call elections.
Technical problems outlined by the Electoral Commission meant it would take
18 months for an election to be organised.
The position of the Commonwealth towards restoration of Chaudhry and his Labour-led
coalition government has been difficult to pin down.
However, while both Downer and Goff have said a return of the elected government
is the preferred option, they have also said the Commonwealth's aim is to ensure
Fiji pursues a path to democracy, and a fair and just constitution.
Bainimarama's plans for a new constitution and new elections might meet Commonwealth
ideals, provided the constitution is not race-based by giving paramountcy to
indigenous Fijians, as demanded by Speight.
CMAG will report to the Commonwealth in London. Already the Commonwealth has
suspended Fiji from its councils.
Meanwhile, the military yesterday held their first talks with Speight's group
in more than a week.
Details of the meeting, with self-styled deputy prime minister Timoci Silatolu
and military representatives were not available. CMAG did not meet Silatolu,
Silatolu and another Speight lawyer, Tevita Bukurau, were taken by army vehicle
from Parliament House, where the hostages are being held, to the military barracks
shortly before the CMAG delegation arrived.
They left soon after the CMAG meeting ended. It could not be determined who
Ratu Timoci and Bukurau met.
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